International Experience New Zealand Day 9: “Is it haunted?”

Before the arrival of the people who would become known as the Maori in the Thirteenth Century, there were no mammals endemic to the fauna of New Zealand. Birds filled most of the ecological niches of the islands. Although the natural history of the island has undergone dramatic changes over the last seven hundred years, there are still many birds. Unfortunately, this proved fatal this morning as several flew into the engines of the turboprop plane that we were meant to take from Wellington to Dunedin. Luckily, we were not on the plane and no passengers were hurt. Still, our flight was delayed seven hours and we spent a lovely day in the Wellington Airport.


New Zealand is never without its magic. Our lunch quest led us away from the airport and through a pedestrian tunnel that opened onto a sleepy seaside cul-de-sac complete with grass-filled parking lots, a dog beach, and a Kiwi bodega.



Arriving in Dunedin, and traversing the cliffs to the picturesque Larnach Castle, we were greeted by Head Gardener, Fiona Eadie, who was kind enough to keep our much-delayed appointment and tour us around the grounds of the castle. Fiona has been working with Margaret Barker, the owner of Larnach Castle, over the last twelve years to transform the gardens of the Castle into lush havens for native New Zealand plants with a focus on an impeccable visitor experience. Larnach features a South Pacific themed garden, an alpine garden, English style borders, tropical forests, and many other extensive plantings with a light Alice in Wonderland theme permeating various installations.



Up to this point we were unaware that a significant 6.2-magnitude earthquake had struck Wellington just hours after we had taken off. Over the past week we have come to love New Zealand and its people; our hearts go out to the North Island and those affected by the quake.

Dinner at Larnach is accompanied by a story of the rise, fall, and rebirth of the Castle. Its relatively short history includes episodes of extravagance, adultery, tragedies, insanity, and death. We were left indulged and intrigued, whispering the question… “Is it haunted?”

Photographs by Gary Shanks

International Experience New Zealand Day 8 – Wellington Botanic Garden and Otari-Wilton’s Bush

It was a breezy and sunny morning as we made our way to the Wellington Cable Car Station to catch the ride to the Wellington Botanic Garden (WBG). David Sole, who has been the manager of the WBG for the past ten years, greeted us upon our arrival. WBG has a garden area of about 25 hectares and was established in 1868. It is funded by the City Council and attracts about one million visitors annually. A master tree plan consisting of about 1,800 trees has been in place since 2011, with 40% of the plan dedicated to regeneration of native plants. David explained that native plants would be replanted in place of any deceased exotic plants in order to promote the use of native plants.


Though there are many themed gardens in WBG, the gardens are inter-connected to weave a seamless design and flow for the visitor experience and education. A new Children’s Garden with an area of about 1,500m2 is under-going development and is scheduled for opening in 2016. The in-house nursery was recently renovated in 2010 and the roofs of the greenhouses were modified to collect rainwater for irrigating the plants. There are free summer concerts six times a week during January to attract more visitors and a display of about 1,200 Begonias in the Begonia House adds to the attraction.


Rewi Elliot, who has been the curator of Otari-Wilton’s Bush (OWB) since 2005, joined us after lunch. OWB has a natural bush area of about 100 hectares and is divided into two separate themes – the forest (or bush) and the garden. The forest was founded by Job Wilton, a farmer, who decided to protect the site and fence off seven hectares to preserve the native plants. Dr. Leonard Cockayne and J.G. McKenzie founded the garden in 1926 to restore and promote the growth of native plants. OWB is the single largest collection of native plants with over 1,200 species and cultivars growing in the garden. An 800-year old, healthy, Dacrydium cupressium can still be seen growing on the steep mountain across OWB. Before the end of the tour, David gave us his enlightening quote of the day – “At the end of the day, gardens are all about the people.”

P1100234     P1100230 copy



Blog by Felicia and Photos by Bryan

International Experience New Zealand Day 7: The Taranaki Triptych

Today, still in the greater New Plymouth area, we visited with Greg Rine, Regional Gardens Manager for the Taranaki Regional Council, and his wife Sue. Greg has the privilege and skill to manage three amazing gardens, all very different from one another.


First stop: Tupare
Tupare was started by a wealthy businessman who enjoyed landscaping the 10 acres of valley and hillsides around his 1941, Tudor-style home. Greg first took us to an overlook where we caught a breathtaking view of the valley before descending the switchback pathways to the house. The paths were lined with hundreds of tall, bright blue and white hydrangeas and the pervasive purple and white agapanthus, all in full bloom. The garden designs and structures were created in the Arts-and-Crafts style, and are maintained as such when it’s practical.


Next stop: Pukeiti
The mountain forest here is steeped in Maori spiritual history, and the garden is renowned worldwide for its rhododendron collection, including vireyas. Since the 790-acre rainforest/garden recently became public in 2010, Greg has plans in motion for a modern visitor center, dramatic garden landscaping, and sustainable biodiversity in the rainforest.
Our trip through the 65-acre rhododendron collection was a series of pathways with “hotspots” of interesting plantings that always kept us wondering what we would find around the next corner.

IMG_2282Last stop: Hollard
Bernie Hollard was a true plantsman, collecting “one of everything” and planting them around his home near Mount Taranaki, a dormant volcano. As he collected, he worked his way further and further from the house, and soon had a unique paradise. In amongst the original eclectic plantings, Greg’s team has implemented a home kitchen garden, a swamp garden, a barbecue and playground, and an edible forest garden.

IMG_2238Greg’s philosophy of management really gets to the heart of why we are all enthusiastic students of public horticulture. The gardens are there for public purpose and public value. The community and the people are the ones who truly own and benefit from their conservation and beauty. Spending the day with Greg and his wife was a truly great experience before piling into the van for a 4-hour countryside drive to Wellington.




Written by Sara Helm Wallace, photos by Sarah Leach Smith

International Experience New Zealand Day 6: Traversing Taranki

Sunny skies greeted us as we woke up and made our way to the charming garden of Valda Poletti. Located close to the center of New Plymouth, Te Kainga Marire is comprised purely of plants native to New Zealand and the surrounding islands.

The unusual Collospermum hastatum.

The unusual Collospermum hastatum.

Valdas house surrounded by native flora.

Valdas house surrounded by native flora.

We were surprised to learn that on purchasing the property in 1972, the first thing that Valda did was to design and implement the garden, never mind the house! The property was completely bare apart from some invasive gorse bushes and Valda has turned it into a native wonderland that still flourishes today. Highlights include a luxurious fern walk, a water garden and a dark tunnel, which is said to house glowworms at certain times of the year. Valda prides herself on having some rare native plants and they certainly are unlike anything we have seen in the United States. Two stunning examples are the blue-flowered Colensoa physaloides and the epiphytic Collospermum hastatum.


Birds are also encouraged in the garden and we were lucky enough to spot a Tui in the trees. This species is found only in New Zealand and until recently was absent from the valley adjacent to Valda’s garden.


Following our visit to Valda’s sanctuary, we then entered the Garden of Eden in the form of Pukekura Park. Within walking distance from New Plymouth, the Pukekura Park is comprised of native forest areas, botanical collections and open areas dedicated to parks and recreational activities.


We met with Christopher Connoley who has been the curator of the Park for the past seven years. Pukekura Park was established in 1876, and initially was comprised of Pinus radiata, which, coincidently, is a native of California. Only a few of the pines remain with some examples dating back 150 years. Even more impressive was a native tree estimated to be over 1000 years old. Chris guided us through a portion of the 52 hectares of parkland, while educating us on the collections, as well as park management and community involvement and support.


Colorful Lobelia hybrids.

Colorful Lobelia hybrids.

An unexpected highlight was the display houses, which contained flowering species from all over the world. Judging by the condition of the potted plants, the daily maintenance is expertly handled by the staff, leaving a lasting impression and a fitting end to the visit.

photos by Kevin Williams and Gary Shanks

International Experience New Zealand Day 5: Let’s see what’s behind door number 2!


Imagine that you are in a circular room with 5 closed doors leading to 5 different worlds. No matter which door you choose, there is sure to be an amazing adventure ahead. Today we visited Hamilton Gardens in Hamilton, New Zealand and had a decidedly “choose your own adventure” experience.


We met with Director Peter Sergel and Manager of Operations Gus Flower to discuss Hamilton’s management plan and tour the gardens. Hamilton Gardens focuses on telling the history of gardens around the world. They do this by presenting five garden collections: Paradise Gardens, Productive Gardens, Fantasy Gardens, Landscape Gardens, and Cultivar Gardens. For example, the Paradise Gardens comprise of several individual gardens rooms based on world cultures. There is a Chinese Scholar’s garden, an American Modernist garden, an English Flower garden, a Japanese Garden of Contemplation, an Italian Renaissance Garden, and an Indian Char Bagh Garden. Each garden forks off from a central courtyard, allowing for garden guests to choose which garden to visit and then build anticipation upon approach. This is where Sergel, a landscape architect, has perfected the “reveal.” One of the most memorable experiences from the day was our visit to the Indian Char Bagh Garden.


A short walk though a covered walkway opened into a bright white hardscape with a light teal blue fountain, and four beds of colorful annuals. Bright golden yellow paired with deep burgundy alongside vivid fuchsia and orange provided for a vision reminiscent of a Persian carpet. Upon entry to the garden, we all let out a simultaneous exclamation of “Wow!” Both the Productive Gardens and Fantasy Gardens also had this great layout. Hamilton Gardens balances out this highly structured layout with the less-formal Valley Walk, one of the Landscape Gardens, which takes guests to the northeastern edge of the property and features a naturalistic aesthetic created with native Waikato plants.

After our visit, our fearless driver Colin took us on an exciting road trip southwest to the quaint coastal town of New Plymouth. This drive included breathtaking views of the countryside’s rolling hills and densely forested valleys. We took an exciting detour to a black sand beach and dipped our toes into the chilly Tasman Sea!IMG_2284

In New Zealand, it seems, no matter what adventure you choose, it is sure to be fantastic. Tomorrow: Pukekura Park and Te Kainga Marire!

International Experience New Zealand Day 4: Ayrlies and Auckland Botanic Garden

20140115_110041Ayrlies is known as the quintessential country garden. It has received the highest ranking possible from New Zealand and was recently featured in the Wall Street Journal.

To say this garden is beautiful is only part of the story;


it draws you in and teases you with vistas and then quietly envelops you in an intimate grove of sequoias.

20140115_100548As we wove our way through the garden with Head Gardener Ben Conway, he shared the story of Ayrlies. In 1964, Bev McConnell began the transformation of her home and dairy farm into a garden.

Ten years later, Bev added a gardener to her staff who was instrumental in creating this truly breathtaking garden.Bev is still very much involved in creating seemingly impossible combinations of plants that highlight the ideal growing conditions available to gardens in this region.


Before we left Ayrlies, we had the chance to sit down with Bev McConnell’s son, John, and Jack Hobbs, Director of Auckland Botanic Gardens, to discuss the Longwood Graduate Program.
20140115_114412The group had a great conversation about the future of public horticulture professionals and one that we were able to continue with Jack as we visited Auckland Botanic Garden (ABG) next.



20140115_165023We began our visit to ABG inside the library with a short overview of the Garden. Jack explained that this relatively young (32 year old), 156 acre garden is free to the public and boasts an attendance that has more than doubled in the last 8 years to over 900,000 visitors annually.

20140115_152853Jack has an excitement to share horticulture with garden visitors that is contagious.We followed Jack into the grounds where he pointed to a number of techniques used to interact with visitors. 


20140115_162848Impossible to miss are eclectic sculptures in the garden, water features and native plant collections important to the Maori people. 


Jack explained that there are more naturalized non-native plants than natives in New Zealand and the garden showcases native plants that can be used in the home garden to encourage greater use.




As we finished our walk we explored the children’s garden and stopped to enjoy one final sculpture before thanking Jack for being a great host and sharing his garden with us.20140115_161954



Blog by Bryan and Photos by Felicia

International Experience New Zealand Days 1–3: “This group is keen to hear about bureaucracy.”

My everlasting, heartfelt compassion and understanding goes out to all of our colleagues who made the trip to New Zealand for the 2013 BGCI conference. No matter where in the world you depart from, the flight is a beast, but I knew from the moment I saw the sunrise over Hauraki Gulf that every second spent in the air was worth it.

 mt eden

wintergarden group

We were greeted at the airport by Adele Marsden of New Zealand Educational Tours, and our driver Colin Berquist with whom we explored the Mt. Eden volcanic crater. A park run in conjunction with the Auckland City Council and a community board, Mt. Eden attracts tourists with its intense vistas, and locals with its hilly walking trails. The crater itself is swathed with low-growing grasses that sway and ripple in the ever-changing winds of Auckland. Several panoramic group photos followed, and we made our way to Auckland Domain where we enjoyed breakfast with Adele and Colin at the Wintergarden Pavilion and Café in Auckland Domain park. Adele introduced us to “jandals,” the Kiwi word for flip-flops, and a Cadbury candy favored by New Zealanders called “Chocolate Fish.”



After breakfast, Adele passed us off to David Millward, the Manager of Metroparks for the city of Auckland with the caveat “This group is keen to hear about bureaucracy.” David gave us a thorough explanation of the history, and financial and operational structure of the Auckland Domain and city parks system. Auckland Domain was founded in 1880 as a 200 acre public preserve created on the cones of an extinct volcano. The Wintergarden Glasshouses were built in 1920 to feature temperate and tropical plants in a constant rotation of bloom. David toured us through the Wintergarden Glasshouses and a native Fernery, where we all agreed that the traveller’s palm in the Glasshouses was the largest that we’ve ever seen.




Text by Kevin Williams, photos by Sara Helm Wallace

Farewell Brazil

Photography by: Longwood Graduate Fellows

IMG_0794Some how two weeks have already flown by and today is our last day in Brazil. Thankfully, we get the morning off to relax, pack, and prepare ourselves for the journey off.

DSCN8153At 2:00pm our guide Vera picked us up for our final adventure in Brazil; Parque Das Aves. The Bird Sanctuary is a private business that works to preserve native birds, reptiles, and even some mammals, along with their natural habitat. The park receives animals rescued from the black market pet trade, as well as injured and abandoned wildlife. The park is placed inside of a native forest with large enclosures for the birds to have plenty of space for flight and nesting. Guests are even allowed to walk through some of the larger enclosures to get a more personal experience.


DSCN8170It wasn’t all animals though. The park is a nature preserve where visitors can learn about the native flora of the Parana Forest. Interpretive panels explained the importance of various plants as food and medicinal sources for wildlife and humans a like. The park isn’t very large, but it was easy to spend several hours there strolling through the pleasant surroundings and enjoying the company of rare and beautiful birds.


Alas, we were forced to leave as we had a flight to catch out of the Foz do Iguaçu airport.

Over 24 hours later we all arrived home – safe, exhausted, hungry, and weary, but we were home. As with all travel there were unexpected delays, missed connections, and bad airport food, but luckily all of our luggage arrived when we did!

Hope you enjoyed our posts, because I know we all enjoyed writing them!

Iguaçu Falls

After our late arrival in Foz do Iguaçu last night, we indulge by sleeping in until 8am.  After a quick breakfast at the hotel buffet, we are in the van at 8:30 with our local guide, Vera.  Vera is from Foz do Iguaçu and has been guiding tours of the area for 28 years.  We know we are in good hands.  Our mission today is to see both sides of the famous Iguaçu Falls, named as one of the great wonders of the natural world.

The Iguaçu Falls are waterfalls on the Iguaçu River at the border of Brazilian state Paraná and Argentine province Misiones. The falls have a flow capacity equal to three times that of Niagara Falls. 20% of the falls are in Brazilian territory, and the other 80% in Argentina. The “Garganta do Diablo” (“Devil’s Throat” in Portuguese) is the tallest of the falls at 318 feet.

We arrive at the Brazilian side of the falls at 9am.  The falls are surrounded by Iguaçu National Park, a huge swath of sub-tropical rainforest.  Vera pays our admission and we begin our journey to the falls.  A short walk later, we get our first of the falls.  All we can say is, “Wow!”


One of the first views of the falls through the trees–it would only get better.

A view from a platform on the Brazilian side.

A view from a platform on the Brazilian side.

A viewing platform.

A viewing platform.

Two hours and hundreds of photographs later, we climb back in the van to visit the Argentinian side of the falls.

On our way to Argentina, Vera takes us to a local barbecue spot so that we can try mate.  Mate is a tea-like drink made from Ilex paraguariensis.  Drinking and sharing mate has its own set of traditions, much like coffee does in the US and Europe. We are in a bit of a hurry, so we are only able to enjoy the mate for a few minutes before we must leave. We pass around the special mate cup, sipping the hot liquid from a silver straw.  It tastes a little bit like very strong green tea.

Back in the van, we cross the Argentina border with no problems.  A short time later, we enter the Argentina side of the Iguaçu National Park.  As we begin our walk to the falls, we quickly notice the popularity of mate amongst park visitors.  Many carry the distinct cup and thermoses for extra hot water.  After a short train ride and a lot of walking, we suddenly come upon the falls and look down straight down into the Devil’s Throat.

After the train ride back to a visitor center, we are tempted to take the train back to the park entrance.  Fortunately, Vera insists we take another walk. Little did we know, this walk includes several more stunning views of the waterfalls. We can see the platforms where we walked on the Brazilian side earlier that morning.  We can’t resist taking more photos.

Falls from the Argentinian side.

Falls from the Argentinian side.

Finally, we are done with the falls and climb back in the van to return to Brazil. We are very lucky to have Vera as our guide. Not only does she know the Iguaçu area very well, but she also loves birds, animals and plants.  All day long, she points out plants and animals that she knows will interest us and carries with her a book on wildlife that we frequently reference.  We are grateful to have her as our guide.

There really are no words adequate to describe Iguaçu Falls.  Hopefully some of our photographs will convey some of the majesty of the waterfalls.


We started our day in luxury bus fitted for 60 people and headed to Curitiba Botanical Garden with our guide Fabio. He told us a lot of interesting stories about the history of Curitiba. The name of this city is from a native “pine” tree (Araucaria angustifolia) which has a long history and is well represented in this region. Curitiba means ‘here many pine trees’ in the native Tupi language.

The Curitiba BG has free admission and many visitors come to the garden especially on weekends. The garden includes outdoor natural areas and a greenhouse. They are well maintained by the largest local cosmetic company in cooperation with the local government. They have their logos on the interpretation boards and labels that make a win-win situation for both government and the company.


In the garden, we saw the beautiful tree that tells the story about how this country got its name. Brazil means “red wood like a hot ember”.  Red was the noble color in the past and they could use the tree to dye fabric a red color. Also some other beautiful blooming trees like monica (Tibouchina) and golden rain tree (Vochysia) are very impressive in this season.
Behind the garden is the plant museum where we learned some biology and botanical history. The famous Brazilian botanist, Gerdt Hatschbach, made great contributions to the plant world. 180 plants are named after him, and when you see a plant scientific name that includes’ gertii’ or ‘hatschbachii’, it means it was discovered or named by him.
The sensory garden demonstrates a great way of allowing people to interact with plants. Josh experienced the garden wearing a blindfold. He experienced the plants only by touching or smelling  them. “It is great and wonderful experience,” he said. After that, we went to the native plant garden which displays Brazilian native plants in well designed landscapes and views. It is a powerful encouragement for people to use native plants in their gardens.IMG_0985

After a delicious lunch in the biggest Italian restaurant in Brazil, we started a whirlwind suburban park tour. At one park, we walked around the big loop to the top of hill where we got great view of the city. Looking down rom the Free University of the Environment to the bottom of the woods, we could see that the lake was made as the shape of the state of Parana. The Bosque do Alemão (German woods)leads visitors on a trail that tells the German tale, Hansel and Gretel, for kids.
The tour ended at the museum of Oscar Niemeyer, which features postmodern design and state-of-the-art engineering. We loved Curitiba, a city that combines historic and modern culture and architecture, a city that values sustainability with great landscapes and a fantastic environment.